Church House

Church House graphic

Historical Background

Church House is the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and is situated right in the heart of Belfast. The gothic architecture and 40m high clock tower dominate the busy junction of Fisherwick Place, Great Victoria Street, Howard Street and Grosvenor Road.

Built in 1905 and opened by the Duke of Argyll, the three story building is styled on the architecture of a Scottish baronial castle while the crown on top of the tower is modelled on that of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. The bell tower houses Belfast's only peal of 12 bells.

The Scottish connection is appropriate since the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is a daughter church of the Church of Scotland. It traces its roots back to 1642 when the first organised Presbyterianism in Ireland had its beginnings among Scottish regiments stationed in Carrickfergus just 10 miles north of Belfast on the lough shore.

Church House was extensively renovated in 1992 to provide more appropriate accommodation. The ground floor is now a shopping mall while the administrative offices of the Church are on floors 1, 2 and 3. At the heart of the building is the 1,300 seater Assembly Hall, entered on the first floor with its all round gallery and pipe organ

Today the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is the largest protestant denomination in Northern Ireland with around 300,000 members and 560 congregations. It is administered from Church House where it holds its annual meeting or General Assembly in June every year.

Carrickfergus Window

On entering Church House from the Wellington street entrance visitors climb the stairs to the foyer outside the Assembly Hall. Here they can view the Carrickfergus Window, a gift donated by the Presbytery of Carrickfergus to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the 'birth' of Presbyterianism in Ireland in 1642.

The window depicts a ship arriving from Scotland to land at Carrickfergus which is represented by the Norman Castle built there in the 11th century.

Carrickfergus Window

Rosemary Street Windows

On the second floor landing are windows from the old Rosemary Street Congregation in Belfast.

It was one of the historic Presbyterian Churches in Belfast sited at Rosemary Street, just off Royal Avenue in front of the City Hall. The church building was destroyed in the Blitz of 1942 and the the stain glass windows in the church were presented to Church House. The Rosemary congregation moved to a new site in north Belfast where it is today.

Rosemary Windows 1

Rosemary Window 2

Memorial Chapel

In 1840 the Presbyterian Church in Ireland as we know it today came into being with the establishment of the General Assembly. One of its first actions was to commission two people for work overseas and ever since this has been an important aspect of the witness of the church.

On the first floor is a memorial chapel dedicated to the memory and work Presbyterian Missionaries who have taken the good news of Jesus to may other countries including China, North India, Nepal, Jamaica and Brazil.

Today the Presbyterian Church has some 50 overseas staff working alongside 22 partner churches around the world.

Memorial Chapel

Wall Hanging

Another notable feature within Church House on the third floor landing is a Wall Hanging measuring some 5m x 2m. This was presented to Church House by the Young Women's Groups of the Church in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of Presbyterianism in Ireland. It is composed of 21 individual tapestries representing visually the attributes of the 21 presbyteries (geographical areas) into which the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is sub-divided.

YWG Wallhanging

The Spires

Followings its refurbishment in 1992 Church House also functions as a commercial conference centre, The Spires. The city centre location close to major hotels makes it an ideal conference location. In recent years it has hosted such major events as the International Housing Conference, Tom Peters Business Seminar and the European Union Women's Conference, May 1998.

The Assembly Hall

The Assembly Hall is a large oval shaped conference hall with an all round gallery and seats 1,300 people.

It is illuminated by a huge glass skylight which is now illuminated artificially so that it can be appreciated at anytime.

At either side of the organ loft at the front of the auditorium are two stain glass windows. The one on the left depicts four of Jesus Parables; The Prodigal Son, The Wise Virgins, The Talents and the Good Samaritan. The window on the right tells the story of Moses, from his being found in the bulrushes, meeting with God at the burning bush, receiving the Ten Commandments and becoming the leader of the children of Israel. The Burning Bush is the symbol used to represent the Presbyterian Church.

It should be noted that these windows were removed for safe keeping at the height of the terrorist bombing of Belfast and were only replaced in 1992.

On the right at the front of the Assembly hall is a plaque unveiled by Diana, Princess of Wales on the occasion of her visit to Church House on June 29, 1992.

Assembly Hall pic